Thursday, May 22, 2014

Georgia NOT on My Mind

          If it looks like a peach, taste like a peach and smells like a peach it must be a peach right? Welcome to the great state of Georgia where not everything is as it might first seem. Georgia, a down home kind of place where God and guns are as American as peach cobbler, peanut farmers, Delta Airlines and the Atlanta Braves major league baseball team. What exactly do these thing have in common? Probably not a whole lot other than the notion they all likely feel a keen responsibility to look out for their own communities. No matter whose life it might cost. What are we if not a community? God bless ‘Merica. An eye for an eye. We are who we associate with are we not? There’s plenty of saying the good ole boys are quite fond of spouting off in their haste to remind us all they won’t lay down their so called 2nd Amendment rights so quickly. In fact, they dead set on making certain Democrats, filthy liberal animals and the black guy in their White House get a big fat F- you too.

          Yet Georgia, the bedrock of the south is also a place where great statesmen and former presidents like James Earl Carter Jr. come from seems to have gone ‘plum crazy’. When was the last time a president actually fed poor children or helped the less fortunate build a home through Habitat for Humanity? A great man who unlike the majority of his predecessors and successors alike puts his money where his mouth is, dedicating his life to the service of others. A man who is deeply committed to social justice and basic human rights. Yet the Grand Ole Party speaks of this great man like an ignorant country bumpkin. There used to be so many great things to say about Georgia.

          Yes sir the Great state of Georgia has spoken! They have seen the light! They will lead the way for ‘Merica. Yet eventually reality sets in and you realize a once great state seems to have lost its cotton pickin’ mind. Even their state motto “Wisdom, Justice, Moderation” says everything about how far off the path of sanity they have strayed. Their illustrious politician’s spew their pro-American “Johnny git jer” gun rights crap while thumping the Lord’s Bible and spitting out verse and scripture instructing others how to live. They’re also fond of telling us who and who will not get through the Gates of Heaven.

          There was a time in America when laws were created to enhance the quality of life and correct inequalities and deficiencies in our society. A time now long gone. Laws these days are fabricated purely to inflate dicks and egos. Those responsible for crafting and creating legislation today are devoid of any desire to effect positive social advancement much less protect the rights of the average American for whom they were elected to work. Any benefit to society is purely accidental, any positive result without merit. One’s manhood used to be measured by hard work, doing right by loved ones, pushing on in the face of adversity and making a positive contribution to society. For the less civic minded individual the measuring stick might rest between one’s legs. Sadly, even the latter trumps today’s interpretation of masculinity which is solely measured by the size of the gun strapped to one’s hip.

          The state of Georgia’s recently passed House Bill 60, the Safe Carry Protection Act of 2014 has made it official, and America has finally lost its goddamn mind. In a world which is, out of necessity to survive, becoming increasingly socially conscious we as a society have allowed America to be reduced to quite possibly the most socially regressing first world nation on the planet. I mean let’s be honest, with politicians the likes of Georgia’s Governor Nathan Deal at the helm what else helm what else can we expect? America at a crossroads and make no mistake it’s Governor Deal who wants to put us all in the cross hairs. Georgia’s Safe Carry Protection Act effectively allows everybody and his brother to pack a gun not only in the street but in bars and restaurants serving alcohol, in the Church pews, school zones and buildings with kids present, government buildings and even airports. You read right, airports! Just imagine, the next time a TSA agent pisses you off you can just shoot him. A gun owner with a license requiring no more background check than a fishing license is now allowed to conceal carry by law right up to the gates of airport security. Even better, the annoying drunk seated next to you at the bar has one too many and decides well, he wants to shoot you, so you decide in self-defense to shoot him back, then his buddy decides to get in on the action just like back in the good ole days of OK Corral. Sound extreme? Think again.

          Remember when schools were a place to feel safe? Yep, a kid might not be allowed to wear a gay rights t-shirt, profess a religious belief or expect a decent lunch, but be sure adults can strap a gun to their hip and during school hours! After all, what’s more important here, education or raising a generation of gun toting kids? Where went the good ole days when everyone in town turned out at church because it was the House of God, a place to feel safe and protected from the evils of men? Not anymore folks those days are long gone too. Thanks to Governor Deal and the Georgia State Legislature the church is no longer designated a feel good, safe zone. Not even the preacher can protect his flock as it will now infringe on your rights to carry a gun wherever you damn well please. How long do you think it will be before some pissed off citizen strolls into a courthouse or government building to contest a traffic ticket, pay a fine or address some manner of official business and some lowly civil servant gets blasted?

          I have to wonder how all those Georgia law enforcement officers feel now knowing every character they pull over from the drunken fool who just got behind the wheel of their car to the pissed off citizen involved in a domestic dispute is now packing a piece. No doubt folks America as you knew it no longer exists. The move by Georgia and Governor Deal is nothing more than extremism in action. Their idea is not to protect the rights of Americans at all, it is no more than extremist leaders attempting to flex their muscles and send a big fat F**K YOU to the moderate, liberal and socially conscious Americans their paranoia tells them want to take ‘their ‘Merica’ away. Governor Deal and his posse effectively said ‘we will do what we want and we don’t care what America thinks’. 

          America is in a seriously bad place when we’ve afforded our elected officials the power to allow guns in schools, churches and airports. The great state of Georgia sacrificed the safety of our children, ignored the true word of God and endangered public safety all for a few votes from 2nd amendment crackpots and NRA extremists. The irony is not lost on a passage of a bogus bill pandered to a desperate public as means for citizens to protect themselves will result in no one being safe anymore. In addition to serious the potentially deadly consequences and serious social ramifications which will sooner than later effect the good citizens of Georgia are huge legal and financial liabilities. Liabilities Governor Deals and his gun rights posse has now laid squarely on the taxpayer doorstep through his blood legislation. At a news conference he was so busy patting himself on the back while chewing his cud, pumping his fist in the air and inciting the gun toting Christian masses, “we won so screw you liberals”, his ignorance and their own was lost on the state of Georgia itself.

          Governor Deal’s gloating and self-adulation in his intentional protection of extremist gun rights activists has put every citizen at risk. Why merely stop at allowing everyone to strap on a holster? Georgia hasn’t gone far enough, let’s go a step further and bring back the age old sport of dueling to the death. Let the good citizens settle squabbles over good old fashioned state sanctioned shootout. Everybody from the gun and ammo manufacturer to local undertakers can now turn a profit, we can even have a picnic in the ole town square. This, is essentially what we have come to, turning a profit for gun rights.   

          One wonders how the State of Georgia would react if we as responsible citizens were to how to address the issue in extremist ways of our own? What if we were to turn the tables on Governor Deal and his posse through a series of economic sanctions on the state of Georgia not unlike we’ve done to Russia and other countries when we want something? Hit them right where it matters most to these people, in the pocketbook. Maybe we can begin by a boycott of Georgia peaches? Hell, why stop there let’s boycott peanuts while we’re at it! Surely the good citizens of Georgia will sit up and take note of sane Americans great displeasure especially in light of economic sanctions. While we’re at it let’s go even further and refuse to fly Delta Airlines head quartered in Atlanta Georgia or skip the Atlanta Braves games whenever they come to a city near you. Money it seems is the only motivator in America today, not social consciousness, or moral responsibility, so it’s about time we bring it to them where it hurts the most. It’s about time we get serious and get serious quick to stop Governor Deal and his Georgia pro-gun rights posse and the countless of other extremists in America or we’re in for big trouble. Trouble we may not be able to so easily turn back.

          The truth is, if we don’t do something to stop the madness that is called gun rights soon we as a nation soon we are surely destined for a great deal more pain and division than we already know. If we allow it to happen, America as we know it will quickly slip out of our hands and into the control of a much uglier, extremist element. Will we as socially responsible Americans stand and take a stand against the madness of Governor Nathan Deal and others like him? Will we take a stand against the insanity of the NRA and those who call themselves Americans? Or will we allow ourselves to as a nation to regress and watch America to slip into the social abyss in which we are headed? An eye for an eye right? Isn’t that what they say down home in Georgia?   

Thursday, April 24, 2014

'Innocence Lost'

So for her I pined most of my days and late into the night
Unfamiliar with the reality of desire
Yet well versed in futility of life
Long halls cold grey walls
A young boy too quickly become a man less the intimacy of touch.
No, for me she was innocent lost and innocence saved all at once
Possibly the only innocent thing I had ever known
And soon that too would disappear and for that I fear
The only real innocence I would ever know
Yet a distant memory in my mind
Saving me from my own self and the slow death of time
We shared something silent
If only a look
That thing only two would know
Yet even it was denied me
Probably rightly so
Still it was innocence found
Innocence lost
Maybe the only I would ever know
And likely never know again
Once, I almost held it
Just when I thought I had it all
It slipped away into the night
Like shadow on glass there and gone
Fate would intervene
Like the inconsiderate devil he can be.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Boogie Man

Even if it felt like hell
It raised me well
Like a child of its own
It never let me down
Kept me warm
Belly full and body covered
It raised me well
As did the streets before
Made me their own
Readied me to go on my own
Then came the they had to set me free
A freedom unlike any kind you’ve ever known
Unlike any I’ve ever known since
When I came up a boy
Scared of my own self in a mirror
Blood splattered walls
Screaming in the halls
Fists clenched in rage
Boogie man under the bed
Angel, Madonna, Crucifix or saint
Nothing could save me from my own hate
Or the monsters living inside that come out at night
Come morning they were out of mind out of sight
They who spawned me tried their best
With what little they had to work
But sometimes even your best isn’t enough
So they set you on your own
So I was grown
Before my time
Matured in body yet not in mind
Having taught me all it could
It would be only a matter of time
Before the street relinquished me
To that place that felt like hell
Yet raised me well
Behind limestone walls
Made a boy a man
Trade in a smirk for a shank
Gave me eyes in back of my head
But the boogie man under my bed
Followed me there
Telling me that though they let me down
He never would
Because he would be with me forever
He became my friend, my lover, my confidant
Taught me how to survive
And never left my side
We became one in the same
The demon I could never live without
Because all others may abandon you
But your demons never will
Even if it felt like hell
It raised me well
Even today calling out my name
It missed me so
Come back home
Just like he promised
He’ll be there waiting
For me to return home
That boogie man under my bed

There's No Such Thing as a Bad Boy

   I remember there was a time when kids could be kids. We played outside in the street with neighborhood friends in relative safety. We might even sneak off to those forbidden places most adults tell them not to go near that most kids eventually discover. I know I not only took a bite from the forbidden apple, I ate the whole thing. We were able fall and hurt ourselves and nobody got sued or get into a fist fight in the street and nobody got arrested. We could get away with minor mischief and even major mayhem on occasion. Kid mayhem that is. Kids were allowed to make mistakes. We played outside well past dark or until a parent or other adult stepped out onto the front steps and screamed your name until you ducked out and ran home. Some kids got to stay out later than others, it usually dependent upon the quality of life at home, but when you’re a kid who thinks in terms of quality? We were just trying to get by without getting beat up or picked on by the older kids. Those of us who did get to stay out later just knew we were cooler than the rest. It always amazed me that I could be blocks and blocks away and still here my mother hollering out our name to come home. Whenever I was a little further away than I should be her voice would resonate throughout the neighborhood passed on from neighbor to neighbor until someone spotted me in a pile of kids and passed the message to get my ass home. That was back in the days when I was still had fear of getting smacked if I didn’t get home. The neighbors would automatically ‘pay it forward’ back then, we didn’t have to be asked to. You look out for mine, I look out for yours. The neighborhood raised your kids.
          Sure, even back then a kid had to be careful but we were fundamentally safer because everybody knew each other or at least knew someone who knew you and your family. People just looked out for one and other. Officer friendly was a real person and cops were looked up to, not eyed with suspicion and fear. They were too busy being real cops to try making a kid feel intimidated. Like I said, kids were allowed to make mistakes. Kids were allowed to be kids.
          Back in those days even I trusted authority. I know, I know, some of you may find that difficult to believe but yes, it is true. I wasn’t always this jaded and cynical. Admittedly even I had a smidgen trust in the legal system, but I saw where that got me. You see, like many of you, I grew up with the belief that if you do right to others they in turn would do right by you. We had faith in the system and held belief that police and the court system was put into place to serve and protect and help guide you down the right path in life. A smile and a kind word got a kid a lot further than hand cuffs and nightsticks. Our role models were once authority figures.
          I grew up with what I refer to as the Father Flanagan Syndrome, that “there is no such thing as a bad boy.” For those of you who know and those of you who don’t, the good Father Edward Flanagan founded Boys Town in Omaha Nebraska as a safe haven for wayward and homeless boys, he would later open the doors to young females too. He was immortalized when portrayed by actor Spencer Tracy in his life story of the same name. ‘Boys Town’ was one of my all-time favorite movies. It told the story of an incorrigible young boy Whitey Marsh (Mickey Rooney) and Father Flanagan’s mission to save Whitey and other kids like him from the negative forces around him. Father Flanagan firmly believed “There are no bad boys. There is only bad environment, bad training, bad example, bad thinking.” In short he was saying responsible parties need to step up and lead the way, not cause more havoc in many already troubled kids lives.
          Each kid with the proper guidance, mentoring and decent role models stood a chance at staying on the straight and narrow and not get lost if they made good choices. For the boy or girl that did stray there was the youth home that provided them with a chance to get straightened out and have a decent shot at life. Instead officer friendly and our justice system now offer kids a lifetime opportunity of a criminal conviction before they can comprehend what it is they did. Our court system has abandoned any notion of child welfare in favor of intimidation tactics on kids, criminal convictions and revenue collection by way of punishing and fining kids for being, well, for being kids.
          The Audy Home (a Chicago term for the youth home) was for the juvenile that needed extra help and was a form of deterrent not punishment. According to The Encyclopedia of Chicago, “In 1899, the women of Chicago’s Hull House and the men of the Chicago Bar Association succeeded in passing legislation to remove children from adult jails and adult poorhouses by establishing the world’s first juvenile court. The separate court was part of a sustained campaign to transform the maltreatment of children by abolishing child labor, establishing compulsory education, creating public playgrounds, and strengthening immigrant family life.” For the most extreme cases of the most incorrigible kid punishment was more severe once they became an adult and still couldn’t do the right thing. These things were understood and officer friendly was put on the front lines to help a troubled kid. That all changed and the front line hero became a government salaried strong arm man and revenue collector concerned more with enriching the courts coffers than serving and protecting. Suddenly, America went horribly wrong.
         Slowly over many years we have thrown any allowance for a kid to be a kid right out the window. State, local and municipal governments and the courts set forth an edict that instructed law enforcement agencies, school teachers and officials to start viewing kid mistakes as an opportunity to invent a revenue source and they happily complied. The asinine politically correct ‘zero tolerance’ experiment took effect. Zero tolerance is essentially saying we’ve surrendered all control and are too lazy to do the job you have entrusted us to do, kids are not our problem. Why not? It took the responsible adult part of the job description out of their hands. It just made life easier, do less for more. A zero tolerance policy created by the responsible adults was placed like a bounty all on the heads of the very kids they were once entrusted to protect. A kid was no longer just a kid but instead a commodity who albeit could not even understand the very word itself had dam well better know how to act in public. If they know what’s good for them they had dam well cease being kids lest they find themselves in cuffs and behind bars amongst the ever growing ranks other ‘kids in the can’. Like adult prisons, kid jails became a burgeoning business worthy of a judge’s greed and our politician’s dirty little secret.
          A recent case that comes to mind out of the hundreds of examples I can think of is the Barrington, Illinois Middle School-Station Campus scandal in which school officials contacted Barrington police to start and investigation into ‘sexting’ or sending inappropriate images amongst themselves using their smartphones. A modern version of sneaking behind the back of school and playing ‘I’ll show you mine if you show me yours’. Their reasoning according to Principal Craig Winkelman is that “sexting among students can affect reputations and disrupt the educational environment.” He warned that criminal charges “may also result” from the students’ actions.” This of course is all from the responsible adult.
          So let me get this straight, responsible parties (parents) give a kid the means by which to get into trouble by giving their kid the latest, greatest smartphone because everyone has one. Meanwhile the other responsible parties (school officials) allow them to roam the halls of grade school with them tucked neatly in their back pockets and training bra straps. Then, when they do what every kid since the beginning of mankind has done, explore their own sexuality, of which we force feed them an overabundance of a daily basis, the responsible adult, rather than deal with what they are paid to, turn them over to child irresponsible law enforcement agencies who force them into brightly lit, small white rooms to interrogate and intimidate them and accuse the minor children of trafficking in child pornography and charge them with sex crimes? A type of arrest mind you that will stay with a child, on their record, for the rest of their juvenile years and most likely the remainder of their lives. That arrest if turned into a conviction turns an innocent minor child into a registered sex offender for life! Sounds like a classic case of entrapment to me. Sounds rather controlling and much like a conspiracy as well. A well designed one at that.
          How screwed up are we in this country is my question? While our society allows full televised nudity, murder and mayhem along with online pornography at every turn we accuse kids of falling short on scruples and self-control? Are you kidding me? Our educators have been stripped of any ability to reach out to kids for fear of their own jobs. Yet we as the responsible adults turn a blind eye to the street corner bus stop bench or rolling public bus advertisements of scantily clad (if your lucky) fourteen year old girls and boys who look like heroin junkies in training. Why do we turn a blind eye? Because assholes call it art, greedy corporations sell it and people lap it up and ask for more while our corrupt politicians say everything’s going to be A-Okay. But somehow the kids just can’t control themselves and we continue on creating a generation of throw away kids who are convicted of crimes of invention by those they were supposed to be able to trust.
         It only gets scarier from there. ‘Kids for Cash’ was arguably the most infamous child abuse case in American history yet everybody seems to have forgotten about it, that is, except the family of the child who committed suicide as a result of his bogus incarceration and the other kids permanently damaged by it. How did it happen? We allowed it to happen.
          In 2008 two judges, Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan who presided over juvenile courts in Wilkes-Barr, Pennsylvania were indicted and eventually convicted of accepting millions of dollars in bribes for kid’s incarceration. Brides paid to them by Robert Mericle the builder of two private, for-profit juvenile detention facilities. The very men we entrusted with our children’s well-being accepted cash and prizes to bogusly sentence kids to jail. They willingly threw many kids lives out the window for what would turn out to be very minor offenses in order increase the facilities detention numbers and profits and they didn’t do it alone. It took many more people to make this happen, many of which I am certain were never indicted in hopes by Luzerne County and state of Pennsylvania government officials that the scandal would just go away. The kids didn’t matter, not even the young man who committed suicide as direct result of Judge Ciavarella’s bogus sentence even though he was considered a first time offender but bad publicity did.  Fortunately these kids did matter to Federal Judge Edwin M. Kosik who rejected the criminal’s judges Ciavarella and Conahan plea agreement and ultimately sentenced them to federal prison for twenty-eight and seventeen and a half years respectively. Hopefully they will die there. As for everyone else, they got off pretty light, except that is for those kids whose lives were ruined and faith in authority forever destroyed.   
          Every time you open a newspaper, turn on the evening news or surf the net you find a story of kids gone bad, kids gone mad and kids arrested for the minor infractions of making the mistakes kids make. Mistakes we all made as kids and were grounded for, yelled at for, suspended from school for and even smacked around for. Now pre-teen kids go straight into hand cuffs or directly to jail for the same offenses you and I once worried we’d catch a beating at home over. We as the supposed responsible adults give them the tools to hang themselves. The lack of morals and life lessons, we offer gratuitous sex and violence in film, TV, music and every aspect of life, after all violence sells. We complain about their lack of motivation and desire for material possessions yet refuse to guide them instead dismantle their future piece by piece. Society demands you have an I-phone, flat screen and latest gym shoe or you’re a loser and not worthy of. They don’t learn this themselves yet no one wants the responsibility of showing young children the way.
          Sure there are kids that do terribly things and commit heinous offenses and they should be punished for them and remanded to mental health facilities where they can be helped. But those aren’t the kids we’re talking about here. We’re talking about the discarded kids from all walks of life. An issue once largely limited by racial bias to the less fortunate underclass, those who had few options is now a threat to every kid out there, save the elite 1% of course, regardless of socio-economic status by the simple invention of zero tolerance.
          It’s simply not enough America incarcerates more adults that any other country in the entire world in the name of profit. Recognizing the enormous potential for increased profits the powers that be allow corporations to set up private juvenile prisons and cash in on America’s children. As result of our failure as a society to place limitations on those we owe the most to and our unwillingness to lead and flat out denial of our responsibility we are well on our way to creating an entire class of sociopaths in the name of greed. What’s worse is we allow law enforcement agencies and the court system full of intolerance, indifference to perpetrated crimes and injustice against kids. It is our fault and as their protectors we have failed miserably. 
          I know a little bit about the lack of life lessons, life skills and being ill prepared for the world that leads to a lack direction. A hard life of that causes a kid to have to figure out the road map of life by trial and error, mostly error. I’m not unfamiliar with the feeling of being discarded and left to fend for oneself and I know a little about kids in jail. However, I also know there were those who tried to lead me in a different direction, there were people who cared and there were people who felt responsible. They’re still out there yet there’s just not enough of them left anymore. Our apathy and lack of sympathy in America has led us down a bad road that threatens to sacrifice our greatest natural resource.
          As Principal Craig Winkelman so self-assuredly says, “life-altering regrets and damage sexting can imprint on a young person’s future.” God forbid he take the time to do his job and make a positive imprint on their young minds. I remember the days when our kids were our greatest natural resource. Hey, what the hell, we abuse every God given thing and waste every other resource we have, why not our kids too?
          I miss Father Flanagan and the lessons he had to teach us, because even if Boys Town was a dramatized version of a great man’s good deeds, it taught us there was something to hope for, something to look forward to. I fear those days are gone. Where is the good Father when we need him?

Saturday, February 2, 2013


It was during my yoga class today while doing my breathing exercises, which have become almost second nature to me, that I was brought back to a time five years ago when I became familiar with my own mortality. A reality in the chaos and utter insanity that had become my life that I had previously seldom if ever given any thought to sober or otherwise. Back then I didn’t give sober thought to much because God knows there weren’t many sober moments but plenty when I thought I would not make it out alive.

These breathing exercises reminded me of a few long moments in time when quietly I realized I was quite possibly going to be introduced to what lay across that great divide. Some people call it death. Many people fear it, some for good reason. After age ten I never so much feared it, partly out of my own ignorance, as I did respect it. Coming from a very large extended family I started attending funerals early in life. Sadly many of them were not good deaths but does anyone ever really die good? My parents were never afraid to show us the reality of life and for that I thank them. I recall on the trip to the hospital in the front seat of my buddies suburban, I struggled with every breath not sure if it would be my last. I fought for and welcomed every hard earned breath. I wanted more than anything to taste the sweet air and stay here with all of you. Laying there on that hospital gurney clutching at my chest weakly as they cut my clothes from my body, shoved needles into my veins and hooked me up to IV’s, I realized just how much for granted I took breathing in a very real sense.

I also made peace with God as I know Him just in case I didn’t make it through. Laying there the realization set it that because I had learned to respect death I was not so much afraid of dying as I was having lived right. Dying I’ve done before, too many times over. Dying was something I had seen happen in front of me. It was something I was used to. My dying was done in the cold, dark cells of jails and prisons, shitty barrooms and nasty, filthy apartments that doubled as whore houses. It was done dimly lit rooms with bad men portraying themselves to be your friend. It all took a piece out of me until I was emotionally and spiritually dead and ‘morally bankrupt’ to borrow a phrase from a great book I read. Death was my inability to feel for or care for anything or for anyone at all. Such was that inability that I wasn’t even able to hate myself anymore. So it was nothing less than a miracle that I would be rescued from myself and slowly over many years be taught how to live and be alive again. You see, living and being alive are two very different things.

Yes, all these thoughts passed through my mind while doing my breathing exercises during yoga. They passed through my thoughts in nothing more than a few moments not unlike those few long moments of five years ago but under very different circumstances. It’s amazing how much can pass through one’s mind in the span of a few moments. I have heard it said that when death is close your life passes before your eyes like watching a rerun of a movie. The question is will that movie of your life have been worth watching. I like breathing and I like my breathing exercises, they make me realize that I am breathing not just to live but to be live alive as I really am today.

In my mind there are only two things for certain in this life. One, we all live and two, we all die. It’s how we spend our time on this earth that will determine if we lived or not. I suspect those final moments will be quite different for those of us who choose to really be alive than it will for those who simply chose to take up space while they were here.

Some would say I am preoccupied with death. I suppose at one time there was much truth in that. I grew up feeling it all around me and spend a good portion of my adult years surrounded by it and the constant threat of it. My older sister recently said to me regarding a conversation about a relative that there are just some things she does not want to know about in the lives of those she loves. She prefers to remain ignorant about some things. Ignorant that is in the sense that it’s the smartest way to remain. I imagine that part of my life fits into her prefer not to know category. There are just some things that no longer need be talked about or thought of as part of life. That was another time, another place, another life I suppose.

With that being said if you read between the lines you will see this is all about really living and nothing about dying.

An old friend recently commented to me that she thought I had an exciting life. I don’t know how true that is or is not. I do know I have never been one to conform to social norms of most sorts. I mean c’mon check my record that should tell you everything. I have been fortunate to sit at the table and break bread with many interesting and notable people from politicians and known celebrities (and some in their own mind) to professional bank robbers, hit men types, millionaires, vagabonds, sinners and saints and lunatics and madmen of all assorted colors. I tend to attract the demented types. I traveled quite a bit and usually get up and go when I feel like for the most part. I have seen the sun come up over the ocean and set quietly in the mountains. I get to some pretty crazy parties and do coffee with a few genuinely inspirational gurus of sorts. Though this way of life is not without its share of anxiety, doubt and insecurity both financially and emotionally I don’t know that I could live any other way really. I guess if these things qualify as exciting I might be onto something.

As long as I can remember I roamed. I roamed whenever the mood struck me. I would disappear for months at a time only to re-appear as the same person just a bit spicier, wiser and wackier. I have always felt that if you’re going to really live, live out loud or not at all. For I know no other way.

Some people live vicariously through others while I much prefer that others live vicariously through me. I mean why let everyone else have all the fun. Let them go find their own fun is how I’ve always seen it. It’s not as if there’s a shortage on fun these days, if anything there’s too much to be had and way too many trying to get a piece of the action.

Getting back to living right, there is living right and wrong the socially accepted way or simply living right by yourself and others by way of your own conscious. The latter is the only one I really care about. For far too long I lived wrong by and did my share of people wrong. I never claimed to qualify as a saint nor do I think I would care to and am quite certain there are no halos to be scored in my future. Anyway there’s already a Saint Stephen who cornered that market. Though I wouldn’t turn down a set of wings if it meant I could help steer the wayward in another direction. Now that’s something I know a little bit about. But I will readily admit there are those out there who wish me no good life success and well, why should they. There are however also those out there who know I have worked hard at change and have done my best to live right and contribute positively to this world and these are the only ones I concern myself with. There’s not much I can do about the naysayers. Again, this is nothing short of a miracle and spiritual epiphany that I was granted a second chance at life, a daily reprieve if you will. I never have been the kind to look a gift horse in the mouth.

I was afforded an opportunity many get but few choose to reconvene, take stock and utilize our God given talents to live right. And what good is having talent if you’re not going use them to help others in some fashion? Living loud and using our experience to live right by doing what we think is right. Who are we if not a culmination of our life experiences? And it seems as if there is always little fear in doing the right thing and living the right way. Maybe because it usually means going against the grain and not being concerned with what others will think. Maybe because it means not following the pack nor even leading the pack but instead walking one owns path to wherever the road may lead. Sometimes that road might be a little lonely and sometimes it may even be a little scary. Anyway, I’ve always felt that if you don’t have a little fear in your life you just ain’t living.

Enjoying life just isn’t as hard as some like to think it is. Maybe they just want it to be because they haven’t yet figured out how to do it. Helping others enjoy it is even easier if you allow it to just be. Somehow I found a way to get out of my own way and just let it be whatever it’s going to. I can’t quite put my finger on when this phenomenon happened and I guess I pretty much quit trying to figure it out. I just got out of my own way I guess.

I have always been good creating and have learned to create the world I want to live in. I live and breathe to create hence the reason I practice breathing. I finally allowed myself to be alive and learn how to breathe. Words make me breathe. Words are the oxygen that feeds my soul, they give me life. These words you have read are me breathing to live and living out loud. There’s a lot to be said for breathing heavily, not being afraid to be alive and just living out loud. The only real world we live in is our own and who and what we invite into our world is our choice. We create and re-create who we are and who we want to be. We become what we create and in the end, what will that be?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Everyday of the Year

One of the many reasons I so enjoy being back in the city on Christmas evening is because of a personal tradition I have of walking the usually bustling city streets on a chilly night while they are almost deserted. With exception of a few others doing the same I basically have the streets to myself and the guy dressed in the Santa Claus suit peddling his bike down Clark St. It gives me a chance to think. Think and reflect and relax after the climax of the holiday season. I explore all that I am grateful for not just on Christmas but everyday of the year.  It's one of my favorite traditions and one I have missed out on for the last several years. Doing the Christmas evening walk on the beach is although thoroughly enjoyable and a heck of a lot warmer just not the same as walking down the city streets with all the streetlight decorations and store windows filled with ribbon wrapped boxes and shiny displays as Christmas music plays softly from the overhead store speakers all through the night.   

Since making the decision a few years ago to spend summers in Chicago as my parents get older I have since extended that to six weeks during the Christmas season as well. I am quite certain it is one of the best decisions I have ever made and one I'll likely never regret. The ability to be here in Chicago and still have my life out on the west coast is one though I live by design is  also one I do not take for granted. Nor do I take for granted the time I get to spend with my family and parents as they grow old. The thing that would most break my heart is to one day get that dreaded  though part of life call one that that they have gone on to a better place and  have the  feeling  rush through me that I missed out on their lives in their old age. The feeling that I could have been there more or done more to make it easier for them. I never want to for one second think that my parents might have felt alone or that no one cared especially their son. No never! That will never ever happen as long as I have a choice. We have all already for many reasons missed out on each others lives far too much during our youth and I absolutely refuse to miss out on anymore.

I took my traditional walk tonight and then went to my Christmas AA meeting as I usually do, it is my form of church and for most most part the closest I get to church these days except when my ma gets me to go to mass with her. I reflected on a lot even enjoying the chilly winter evening. I caught my reflection smiling back at me as I stopped to window shop. Then I jumped into a taxi for the last several blocks home. 

Once home and warm and cozy I sunk into the couch to reflect on my day and suddenly and without any warning I began to cry. I cried like a baby for several minutes. No, I was not sad to the contrary I was happy and grateful. I cried like I had not cried in a long, long time and it felt great. I cried because because I was overwhelmed by emotion and beside myself with gratitude and admittedly cry as I sit here writing. I cried because I realized that throughout all the hard times and adversity my family and particularly my parents have faced that God has been good to us and in their old age made life safe and secure for them  to some degree. I cried too because He has given me the ability and opportunity to be there for my family in whatever little ways I can and make life just a bit more comfortable for them. I cried because regardless of all the craziness, bad luck and bad choices their lives turned out okay and they go to sleep warm every night not in need of life's basic necessities. I cried because it was not always that way. 

My parents were never rich people and by many standards except for a few years in their brief married life they were barely middle class.  They have always just barely squeaked by  financially and there was never much room for extras but they were never afraid to splurge if they felt it would help morale of those concerned. They didn't come from solid financial stock and did not possess many of the living skills necessary to raise a family. They had difficult lives and were from difficult families. Adversity was nothing new to them. They are street people so to speak who know how to survive. Needless to say they weren't schooled in how to impart on their children the life skills many learn and acquire growing up. This never really bothered me as I learned from an early age to survive on my own. Not too long ago my older sister who assisted greatly in raising us said to me in response to something I told her my mother had said that 'for all they may have lacked in teaching us in life skills, they taught us things about how to survive in life just by being who they are that they don't even know they taught us, and for that I am grateful.' If anyone is a survivor my sister is. 

One of my prayers to God I vividly recall during a particularly difficult time in life  was from when I was just a young boy of maybe eight or nine years old . I called on Him asking that He always take care of my family even if it meant he could not take care of me. It was not as though I felt I was a martyr by any means in fact I am quite sure I did not even know what a martyr was at the time. Nor was it that I felt any less than anyone else, though that would be a personal obstacle I would later have to overcome. It was simply that I was just a little boy who was keenly aware even at that young age of the hard times they went through personally and financially.  I was simply a little boy who wanted the best for his family. I never had a great desire for toys, games and shiny new bikes at Christmas time but instead yearned only for life's simple things like money for food for the table and electric bills that needed to be paid and for a safe home. I asked that my ma didn't cry at night out of fear of physical harm or because of an inability to do for us what she really wished she could. I asked that my father not get hurt outside or hurt anyone else outside or inside particularly us. I asked that he not cry  by himself in the bathroom at night when I saw him sneak in there with a drink in his hand. I knew he never wanted to be mean but he didn't know how not to be. I don't know how I knew the things I did, I just did. Even my aunts would comment on the fact that I just knew too much for my age. I never wanted for myself because I knew deep down inside He would look out for me no matter what. I knew this because my ma had said so, so it was true. I also asked God that he give me the ability to one day be able to take care of my family and make them smile. Well, they say God gives you what you ask for and though it took many years He did give me what I asked for. For that I am forever grateful. 

There were years when my brother who is schizophrenic was homeless as was my ma and I did what I could do for them when I could find them. There were times my father could not pay his rent and moved from place to place but never gave up on himself or others. My sister did what she could but was trying to raise a family yet was still always there for us. Often life was not kind to them. Even now my ma has a hard time talking about the difficult times but in her old age is getting more comfortable with telling me more, maybe because she feels the years creeping up on her but still there are some things she can't talk about and I believe will go with her. I myself am only beginning to become able to share many of these things with others. An old girlfriend used to comment on how much of my youth was a haze but truth was I didn't want it to be anything more than that. I had selective memory, something I believe helped me survive emotionally.

I realize now the hard times I witnessed her go through was only a fraction of the hard times she survived. She shares stories of the rough times my father went through growing up but still doesn't let him off the hook for things he did though she does acknowledge he didn't know better. For his part my father does not deny his mistakes and in fact wholly admits them and has done a great deal to make up for what he did or did not do. One thing I can say is that neither of them has ever talked negatively about the other though I am certain they easily could have the ammunition to. No, they just weren't built that way. They didn't believe in turning family against one and other, their problems were their own and they didn't make them anyone else's Even when my fathers sister in laws during their own personal troubles would call on my ma to  jump on their band wagon and bash my father and his family ma wouldn't go down that road. She just never understood how someone could bash the father of their children and try to turn a mans own children against him because of their own marital troubles even though no one could rightfully fault her if she had chosen to do that. She was old school through and through. As for my father, even after all their personal problems and his destructive ways he sincerely taught us to never strike a woman or someone you loved and that loyalty to a fault to your family and those you loved was a virtue to be admired. I can't say he lived what he believed in the early days but he  truly believed what he tried to teach us. He is a real man who has always been loyal to a fault. He would kill for those he loved and would have killed anyone else for doing the things to him that he did to himself.  It would take him many, many years but he would eventually learn to love the one person he despised most of his life, himself. He was always a do as I say not as I do kind of guy. He like my ma came from a large family and never had a loving relationship with his own mother but always made sure over the years to remind us to have a loving one with our own. One time my father told me that after some reflection he realized that they got married not so much out of love but  in part because they came from like families. Both needed someone to get through life with and both could drink with the best of them. Drinking was a large part of their marriage and would for many years become a large part of my own life. I have always had great love for both of them but the more we talk have learned to have great respect for both of them. I realize it is as a direct result of who they are that I have been able to survive life's often treacherous waters. 

Every year I try to give them something nice and pay at least a few bills for them. The greatest gift is to see the smile on their faces when they get their gifts. Every year they never expect anything because they have never been the expecting type of people. But nothing can replace their smiles when they get gifts. I don't give because I expect only because I love them so much and want to make life a little easier. I am not rich but know I don't need to blow money on crap when I can use it on my family. When I come home we go out and eat all the time because I know they can't always do it. I am blessed I can do it. I am blessed I can help my daughter when she needs and give my brother some of life's necessities and few few luxuries he cannot himself afford. I am blessed I can pick up a few bills for my parents so they have a little extra cash on hand at months end when bills come due. I am blessed I can make my father smile at Christmas Eve brunch in a fine dining restaurant that he is not accustomed to going to. I am blessed I can find a special gift that I know will mean something special to my sister in her life. 

Yesterday my father thanked me for everything that I did for my family but I didn't think I did that much. I do what I believe is necessary as a son and because I want to do it for those that I love. I responded to him that I feel fortunate to be able to do the little that I can and that I will do more as time goes by. He responded it didn't have to do with money or things but  simply with the fact that I was there with them. That to him meant more than anything else could. It took me all I could do to not tear up when he said that. The simple fact that he knows how much I love them is all that matters to me. My brother being a little more comfortable in life or my daughter getting something she really wanted but couldn't afford or knowing my sister was able to be with her Marine son on Christmas is what means something to me. My father smiling at brunch talking about  how grateful he is to be with his sons. Me and ma laughing our heads off at  dinner Christmas day at the only place she wanted to go, the neighborhood diner. Packing up her leftovers myself and making sure she gets her coffee, not in a ceramic cup but instead in a paper cup the way she likes it and then walking her home through the neighborhood. Or making sure my father gets on the train home safely after a long and always welcomed walk and talk through the city. That's what I'm grateful for, not just this Christmas day but everyday. It's like ma said, through all the hard times God took care of us and it all turned out okay. It only gets better from here. I made it through a lot of bad episodes in life to get here and I wouldn't change a thing.

Just as I was nearing the end in this spilling of my guts the phone rang. It was my cousin, my fathers recently deceased brother's daughter. I was fortunate to be able to get home when my uncle her father was dying last year and spend several days with him at the hospital. We were close but had bad disagreements a few years prior. But I was able to be there with him at the end. She called to wish me Merry Christmas and hoped we could get together while I was in town. She is older than I and I never really knew her well until the past few years though she and my sister were very close. She thanked me for bringing out my uncle another of my fathers elderly brothers to see her and her husband when she was in Southern California recently. She commented on how she wasn't going to call me when she was in California even though she truly wanted to see our uncle as it was so last minute but her husband convinced her to at least try. She did call and it took no time  for me to decide how important it was for both her and my uncle to make sure they met up. I hung up with her, called my uncle then immediately called her back and the next morning we were all sitting down for lunch on the beach. They needed to put closure on his death and achieved just that. She said that she always hears about people and loyalty to family but truly witnessed in me. I responded I did what I believe is my duty to my family nothing exceptional, she begged to differ, I graciously accepted her love and thanks. 

My family for better or worse is who made me, they are what makes me. Those few I have in my life today are my family whether it be by blood or choice. Family is family and loyalty to a fault to those for me is the only way. I have survived in life and made it because of those things they taught me and didn't even know they did. Mine might not be the traditional Christmas story but nothing in my life has ever been on a direct path so I'll gladly take my story and love it. It took us a lot to get here but I'm ever so grateful for it.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

When The Mirror Looks Back

Self awareness is a funny thing sometimes. One can spend a long time, sometimes years, searching for and finding oneself and what makes their self tick. Yet the more self aware we seem to become the less we seem to remember that others might not be in tune with just how self aware we think we are or really care. The more self aware we become the more we run the risk of fooling ourselves into believing that we really know all that we think we do when in fact we probably don't know half as much as we like to think we do. Self awareness is something of a paradox. 

I spent a lot of time trying to take the time to learn about myself and who I am and to learn to rely on my own self and no one else. By nature of my own life experiences  I was forced to or in some cases forced myself to survive without the help of others assistance whether financially, emotionally or otherwise. I really believed I was doing the right thing by convincing myself that self reliance was the way to go in life. Simply put, I fooled myself into believing my own bullshit and I bought it. I became what I thought was so self reliant that I forgot how to really become emotionally attached to other people. I denied myself the ability to feel that necessary human need, emotional and physical contact. I like to talk about how so and so is a lonely person or that loneliness can kill and yet somehow I never even recognized that I myself was as lonely as one can be and still be breathing. Again, by nature of my life's experiences I have learned how to live in the shadow of loneliness never getting close enough to anyone for you to hurt me. Like shadow on glass, there and gone. 

Recently I had an old friend compliment me on how he admired my ability to be so transparent in my writings. But one can be transparent and still be hiding behind that transparency. I am not transparent by choice, no, I am transparent out of necessity to survive so I don't have to keep all the crap bottled up inside. I have been in the dark room with the gun in my hand and it's not a pretty place to be. I have felt the dark place in my heart and soul and it is a painful place to live in. You in an audience have in a sense become my therapist and the best part is you listen and don't talk and then I don't have anyone to answer to at our next session. I simply sign in, write and sign off. See, I realize that if I stay transparent in my words and in a sense put myself out there then you may not think about stopping to ask me who I really am or how I really feel. It's kind of like hiding in plain sight. I think I'm so good at fooling you that I have fooled myself and succeeded in keeping not only others at an arms length but keeping my own self at an arms length as well. 

What, you ask prompted this topic, these thoughts and this rant about my writing and transparency? Simple, some asked me who I really was today and how it was that I truly felt. I had no idea how to verbalize an answer, quite possibly because I had no answer. Then a few hours later a once potential romantic partner said that though I was 'really a great guy though' I was noncommittal and emotionally unavailable. Maybe because my special talent at remaining aloof has kept me from carrying through on my previous commitment to get together with that person. Possibly because a part of me recognized that that person is a good person and someone I could potentially get close to and care about? Like others before. Yet the fact that she said that didn't hurt so much as t made me feel alive. It made me feel alive because for whatever reason this time I recognized what she was saying because I had heard it before but until today had never listened. It got me thinking that it has been a slow and rocky road to truly believing that I do deserve good things and good people in my life. It also got me thinking that there really are no coincidences in life and the fact that these instances happened back to back likely means something more than I probably care to look at so once again you, my audience has become my counsel. It may not have even been as much about that particular person as it was about the idea that once again there was someone out there that I could get close to on any level that once again it scared me enough to run by avoidance. 

As a young kid I learned to rely on myself and as a teen I did the same. Prison taught me to trust no one and helped me hone the fine art of keeping people at bay. Sobriety and a new lease on life gave me the courage to change but I didn't let it help me to trust and let others in again, maybe for the first time in my life. Simply uttering the words, I was in prison, not once but twice,  is a major accomplishment in that I avoided it for a long time and preferred to keep it in my past life. But my past life is my present life and those experiences have contributed greatly to who it is I am, the good and the not so good. My father as recently as last night asked me to share things  about my life that although he was aware of didn't know the details to. I realized that in his old age I owe him that much. To finally open up, not hide by avoidance and allow him  to know his son.

I have no answers other than I am afraid to get close to someone even though I truly wish to do just that. Inside I wish for nothing more than that. Maybe it never happens for some or maybe we just won't let it. Sure there are a few people I am close to in this world and those few know who I am and are well aware of my character defects but love me anyways. They also know that aside of them and they are very few, that I don't yet know how to trust but I mask it as the self reliance and self awareness I think I possess. Yet it's not enough for just them to know it anymore. No, it's now a necessity for me to know it  and realize it and do something about it, otherwise I will end up just like Mick the old boxing coach I always joke about from the Rocky movies who says, 'lemme alone I'm just an old man eatin' a can a stewed tomatas'. That joke can become a reality. How do I know that it can? I know it can because I have seen it happen to too many others I have known. 

(To be cont.)